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Weekend Focus: Memorial Day drive begins

Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 15, 2015 at 2:53 PM

This weekend not only marks a weekend leading up a significant holiday, but it also marks the unofficial beginning of vacation season.

Between schools getting out, work holidays and the summer season just around the corner, the Memorial Day weekend evolved into trips and travel.

This year, AAA in cooperation with IHS Global Insight, forecasted the busiest Memorial Day travel weekend since the recession, with an overall travel volume increase of 1.5 percent from last year.

The two companies are able to estimate travel and predict patterns by IHS’ methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes using economic variables and data. IHS is the leading source of information, insight and analytics in critical areas that shape business landscape. IHS teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during major holidays, and AAA has reported on holiday travel trends for more than 20 years.

AAA Travel projects more than 36.1 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, up from the 35.5 million people whom traveled last year.

The Memorial Day holiday period is defined as Thursday through Monday.

Additionally, AAA estimates the holiday that will kick off the summer season will see more than eight in 10 travelers, around 88 percent, driving to their destination.

While those traveling by car will be at its highest in years, air travelers are also expected to increase to 2.6 million leisure travelers. 

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings could increase 2 percent from last year, with travelers spending an average of $169 per night compared to $160 last year. Two Diamond hotel rates also rose 3 percent, with an average cost of $124 per night.

Car rentals should additionally be up 1 percent, with weekend rates averaging $44.

However, AAA reported airfare prices are expected to see the largest increase, around 6 percent more than normal for the average round-trip, discounted fares for the top 40 U.S. routes, up to $227 from $215 last year.

Other modes of travel include cruises, trains and buses, which all will see the largest increase, up 6.5 percent to 1.7 million travelers, AAA reported.

“A long and unusually harsh winter gave many Americans the travel bug,” said Mark Jenkins, AAA Auto Club Group spokesman. “Combine rising temperatures with signs of an improving economy, and travel for the holiday should hit a new post-recession high.”

AAA said a bump in travel could attribute to the fact that household net worth is up about 8 percent over last year and personal income is up more than 3 percent.

Improvements in several key economic factors are driving the expectation for more holiday travelers this year,” Jenkins said. “Consumer spending, disposable income, consumer confidence and the employment outlook are trending up, which is welcomed news for the travel industry.”

Though the harsh winter was a hindrance to economic growth at the beginning of the year, Jenkins said, economic factors influenced by weather, like car and home sales, seem to be resolving themselves now.

Along with the economic impact, gas prices also play a factor on travel plans.

AAA said it expects most drivers will pay lower gas prices by Memorial Day weekend due to rising supplies. 

AAA also said it expects holiday gas prices to be similar or slightly less than last year’s Memorial Day average of $3.63 per gallon, although unexpected developments like refinery problems or international events could make for higher costs.

“With many plans already made and budgets set, it is likely that gas prices will have a significant effect on travel plans compared to a year ago,” Jenkins said.

According to a recent AAA Consumer Pulse survey in mid-May, although an increased number of people plan to travel this weekend, 57 percent of Memorial Day travelers in the Southeast were yet to finalize their travel plans in the few weeks before the holiday, which include hotel reservations, car rentals, and the like.

This years travel volume forecast by AAA is also 2.6 percent higher than the 10-year historical average and the second highest travel volume since 2000, with 2005 being the highest.

Statewide, Tennessee is expected to have more than 774,000 of the projected 36 million travelers this weekend. Surrounding states like Georgia is expected to have 1 million travelers and Florida is expected to have 1.8 million.

Of that, more than 680,000 of those are expected to be traveling by car this weekend in Tennessee, compared to 926,000 in Georgia and 1.6 million in Florida.

Around 50,000 in Tennessee will travel by air and 32,000 are expected to use another form of travel.

With all of the travel going on for the Memorial Day weekend, AAA and Bud Light will team up to offer the “Tow to Go” program designed to help discourage drinking and driving. 

Anyone, AAA member or not, can call for a Tow to Go ride through Monday.

“If you are going to drink this holiday weekend, having a designated driver is a great way to celebrate safely and avoid impaired driving,” said Gerry Gutowski, senior vice president of Automotive Services with AAA’s The Auto Club Group. “However, we are pleased to offer Tow to Go as a last resort for those in need of a safe ride home.”

“The Tow to Go program is an effective way to promote the use of designated drivers and help prevent drunk driving,” said Kathy Casso, vice president of corporate social responsibility for Anheuser-Busch. “We’re proud to partner with AAA and their roadside assistance drivers to help keep our roads safe.”

According to AAA, since Tow to Go’s inception in 1998, it has safely removed more than 23,000 intoxicated drivers from the roads. The service is designed to be used as a last resort and is offered based on availability of AAA drivers and tow trucks.

The Tow to Go service provides a confidential local ride within a 10-mile radius to a safe location, is provided in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee and will take the driver and their car home.

The Tow to Go number is 855-2-TOW-2-GO or 855-286-9246.

And while many will look to travel over the bustling weekend, it’s easy to forget the true meaning of the holiday that gives us the leisure to travel in the first place.

Memorial Day is a holiday to celebrate and honor the men and women who have fought and died serving their country in the military.

A Wilson County Memorial Day ceremony is set for Monday at 9 a.m. at the monument in front of the Wilson County Courthouse.

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